CFP and the Fish Fight Campaign: Article for the Mid Devon Gazette

Like many of you reading this now I was fortunate enough last week to catch Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight, a well researched and in-depth look at the quota system imposed on our fisherman by the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). This programme has clearly struck a chord with the country and I have been inundated with emails of constituents concerned with the environmentally and economically damaging practice of discarding.The quota system puts limits on the type of fish, as well as the quantity, that are allowed to be caught. If fishermen go over this quota they have no choice but to discard them back into the sea before they reach port.As a result of this, fishing fleets in the North Sea are being forced to discard forty to sixty per cent of their catch. In 2009 the South West and Welsh coast saw fishermen discarding 18,500 tonnes of haddock, plaice and cod.It is an ill thought out regulation that I am all too familiar with. As a Member of the European Parliament I briefly sat as a substitute member of the Fisheries committee and now as a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee I have been scrutinising the government’s Marine Policy Statement, the first steps in reforming the current system for management of our seas and bringing some sort of framework for marine and coastal planning. During one of these evidence sessions in November I asked the Minister responsible for Fisheries, Richard Benyon MP, to ban discards completely.Richard Benyon replied - “Norway banned discards. I want to be in a position where we have zero discards; I have no lesser ambition than that.” - A response that I found encouraging.There have already been some attempts in the UK to find alternatives to the CFP quota to manage fish stocks whilst limiting the environmentally and economically wasteful practice of discarding. A pilot scheme done in some parts of the UK for cod uses an alternative quota management system based on a quota for what fisherman catch rather than land at port. The trials so far have been positive with discards of cod being low, around 1 to 7 per cent and the fishermen are fishing more selectively in order to maximise the value of their catch.Closer to home is the Project 50 per cent where a beam trawler fleet in Brixham reduced the amount of fish discarded overboard by an average of 52 percent.But if we are ever to create a manageable framework for protecting both our fishermen and our fish stocks there has to be fundamental reform of the Common Fisheries Policy.A quota system which encourages the discarding dead - but perfectly edible fish - back into the water in order to protect fish stocks puts me in mind of that bizarre government slogan in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World - \\Ending is better than mending. The more stitches, the less riches.\\Let us get back to a commonsense approach to fisheries – and fast.Neil Parish MP